Rediscovering Indian thought: How a scholar built a database of pre-Independence magazinesRediscovering Indian thought: How a scholar built a database of pre-Independence magazines

Prof Rahul Sagar of NYU Abu Dhabi has built this fantabuolus database: It indexes the contents pages of 255 English-language pre-Independence magazines from India.

In thus scroll article. Prof Sagar details his journey:

In the early nineteenth century the East India Company committed itself to imparting modern knowledge to the people of India. Soon thereafter Indians began flocking to newly created colleges and schools where they became avid readers of the celebrated British periodicals of the era such as Athenaeum, The Quarterly Review, The Contemporary Review, The Fortnightly Review, The National Review, and Nineteenth Century. Not unreasonably, they came to view these periodicals as exemplars of public debate and reasoned deliberation.

As the century progressed, these increasingly urbane Indians ached to discuss subjects closer to home. They answered this need by founding local counterparts to the British periodicals they admired so greatly. In a matter of decades there were hundreds of periodicals in circulation, brimming with essays on a wide range of topics. How to address inequalities of caste and gender? What to learn from rising powers like Japan and the United States? How to ensure economic development and advance self-government? How to reconcile traditional beliefs with modern science?

A vibrant public sphere now took shape as legions of newly minted graduates contributed and subscribed to these English-language periodicals. The most notable of the first wave included Bengal Magazine, Haris Chandra’s Magazine, Mookerjee’s Magazine, Allahabad Review, Madras Review, and The Quarterly Journal of the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha. At the end of the nineteenth century came that magnificent trio – The Hindustan Review, The Indian Review, and The Modern Review – that dominated public life for the next half a century. They were joined by dozens of smaller periodicals such as Welfare, The Aryan Path, and Modern World.

It is impossible to overestimate the importance of these periodicals. Transported around the country by newly built railway networks, they attracted and cultivated a wide readership. By compelling writers and readers to think more broadly, they midwifed modern India. This was not all. As these periodicals were typically published on a monthly basis, they devoted themselves not to reporting news, which would be stale by the time the periodical reached the subscriber, but to essays on the leading questions of the day.

He and his team have put all these together. Just amazing work. Applause!!

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